Dennis Wright's Blog

Kodaiji Temple

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, Japan, Kyoto, Travel, Video by Dennis Wright on December 12, 2007

We did then find the Kodaiji Buddhist Temple. The site is quite large and boasts some extensive gardens as well as the various buildings, such as the Ihoan (teahouse). The teahouse has its own picture on Wikipedia. I think mine’s better composed, but then I would.

Japan Kyoto Kodaiji

More pictures of the temple:

Japan Kyoto Kodaiji

Japan Kyoto Kodaiji

The gardens include an unusual “bamboo forest”:

Japan Kyoto Kodaiji

We were there till closing time in late afternoon then made for the exit.

Japan Kyoto Kodaiji

There is a large buddha in the complex but we couldn’t get to it because that section was then closed. All I could do was snap the top half over the fence. There is a picture of the whole buddha here (taken by another visitor 4 days later).

Japan Kyoto Kodaiji

A Geiko outside the temple complex was kind enough to give her permission to let us photograph her.

japan kyoto kodaiji

In the evening we caught a show at the Gion Corner theatre. It is strictly for tourists, but offers up bite sized demonstrations of classic Japanese entertainments, neatly packaged up into a one hour show.

There is a demonstration of the famous tea ceremony. Far too fussy for my liking, not my cup of tea at all. The Gagaku court music was unlistenable. The Geishas playing the koto was interesting, more for the instruments themselves than the music. The koto looks like a log that has been cut in half and then strung. The Geishas sit on the floor to play it.

The section I found the most interesting and enjoyable was the bunraku. It’s like a cross between the Black Theatre of Prague and Julie Taymor’s staging of the Lion King. It’s puppet theatre where the puppets are large (although not quite lifesize) and the puppeteers are fully visible on stage. Some puppets need three or four puppeteers to work them. The piece we saw was an excerpt from the play where Oshichi climbs the fire tower, as mentioned in the Wikipedia link above. The way the Oshichi puppet is made to move in a lifelike way is utterly fascinating.

Actually, I found some video (someone else’s) on youTube (where else?) of the bunraku show at Gion Corner, featuring the Oshichi puppet:

And a bit more for luck – Oshichi’s getting quite agitated about her boyfriend in this one:

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Dalian

Posted in China, Far East Cruise 2007, Video by Dennis Wright on July 3, 2007

Our last port of call in China was Dalian. I had never heard of it before we booked the trip but it has a population of over 6m.

Whereas with other cities there had been no shortage of obvious must-see sights, for Dalian we were less sure about how to make the most of our visit so decided to play it safe with an organised shore excursion.

This followed a Mariner’s Club cocktail party in the ship’s show lounge (the Van Gogh Lounge). It is just a promotional event for HAL’s loyalty scheme, rewarding elderly and wealthy people who have spent 10 years of their lives on board HAL ships with gold medallions and suchlike. The captain also announced there would be soon be a new ship to join the Statendam, Nordam, Oosterdam, Rotterdam, Ryndam, etc., etc., in the HAL fleet. It would be twice the size of any of the others, have 10 show lounges, 6 swimming pools and hit new heights of luxury. The woman next to us quipped “I guess they’ll call it the Expensivedam”.

Ha, ha. They won’t of course call it that but it will no doubt be “damn expensive”.

statendam van gogh lounge

Dalian’s city centre is modern and clean.

dalian city centre china

dalian city centre china

Part of the tour involved a visit to a local resident’s house, with an interpreter on hand so we could ask questions. It was a retired lady who appeared to live on her own. I guess her husband had died and the one son had gone to work in a different city. Naomi was sure the whole thing was staged for PR purposes but HAL claimed it was their idea, not the PRC’s. It may well have been genuine enough – the block of flats was not exactly luxurious.

dalian china

The woman had a small vestibule, one sitting room cum bedroom with a TV in it, a kitchen and a bathroom. It was all spotless and tidy. There was mains electricity and piped water, but no piped gas. The tiny kitchen seemed to rely on a calor-gas powered wok.

Around ten of us from the ship sat in the living room and were offered tea and fortune cookies. The discussion was hesitant – no-one seemed to know what to ask. I asked if things had improved in the last 10 years to which the answer via the interpreter was an enlightening “yes”. When I asked in what ways I did not get an answer at all. Maybe the flat is bugged and the woman was scared to say the wrong thing. Who knows? I bid the woman “Xie Xie” for her hospitality and departed with the others.

Note: the video below and all other videos in this post are high bitrate. Depending on your Internet connection speed, data transfer may not keep up with playback so the video may keep stopping and starting. If so, just pause playback until the data download has built up a big “head start” then start playback again.

We went to the local market next.

china dalian market

china dalian market

The ice for the fish market:

china dalian market

We were taken to lunch at a new and up-market city centre hotel. There was some entertainment by a troupe of Chinese children thrown in, and hosted by our tour guide who asked us to call him Joe. In the video clip below Joe apologises for the fact that our lunch does not include as many courses as the Chinese Dowager Empress Tzu-Hsi once enjoyed at a single meal. At the time, I didn’t know what he was going on about. It is only with the benefit of having recorded him, and the opportunity to do some Googling, that I now know who he was referring to.

High bitrate video, 1:52. Introduction and first item of children’s show:
High bitrate video , 3:09. Second item of children’s show:

Next up – the Dalian Women’s Mounted Police School.

dalian women mounted police

V

They were supposed to put on a display but there was a foul-up and our tour guide, Joe, called us out of the grandstand with the bad news. We were later refunded.

dalian china joe

Kite sellers in the city centre.

dalian city centre china

I really am running behind with the Far East part of my blog. I notice that when I was actually in Dalian I was blogging about Hong Kong, and even then conscious I was not keeping up. We’ve been back two months from our Asian cruise and in the meantime I’ve been to Berlin (via Holland) and to Venice (returning via Treviso, Marco Polo, Gatwick and Stansted, thanks to Ryanair cancelling the flight home).

The Changeling Tomb

Posted in China, Far East Cruise 2007, Video by Dennis Wright on June 19, 2007

It is commonly assumed that the game ping pong was invented in China. It actually started in England. Mind you, the Chinese may well have invented the pong bit, if the vile excuse for a toilet at the Changeling Tomb is anything to go by. Absolutely stomach turning.

The correct name of the place is Chang Ling (you don’t strictly need to add “tomb” because Ling means tomb). Naomi and I referred to it as the changeling tomb because it is hard to read Chang Ling without your brain “correcting” an apparent missing “e”.

Chang Ling is the tomb of 15th Century Ming Emperor Yongle who seems to have been a right busy person. His list of achievements includes establishing the Chinese capital at Beijing (it was previously Nanjing), being behind the building of the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, a refortification of the Great Wall of China, and the Ming Tomb area itself including the Sacred Way. In fact, were it not for Yongle it would hardly have been worth going to the Beijing area at all.

Chang Ling is one of only three Ming Tombs to have been excavated to date. We did not visit the burial chamber itself as the treasures have been moved to an exhibition in the Hall of Eminent Favour, part of the Chang Ling complex the latter being built like a miniature version of the Forbidden City.

The Hall is supported on wooden pillars and there is a large bronze statue of Yongle in the centre.

China Chang Ling

There are a number of artifacts on display which were recovered from the tomb, including Yongle’s golden threaded crown and the Empress’s Phoenix crown …

China Chang Ling Yongle Gold Crown

China Chang Ling Empress Headdress

… and, it would seem, their ceremonial teapot. Just the thing for when the mother in law calls in for a quick cup of Oolong tea.

China Chang Ling

At the back of the complex is the Soul Tower which contains a stele.

China Chang Ling Soul Tower

China Chang Ling Soul Tower

Note: The video below is high bitrate. Playing time 1:21.

The Hall of Eminent Favour viewed from Soul Tower.

China Chang Ling

The Ming Tombs and the Sacred Way

Posted in China, Far East Cruise 2007, Video by Dennis Wright on June 18, 2007

The Sacred Way (Shen Dao), a wide avenue flanked by two rows of willow trees, was the ancient ceremonial pathway to the Ming Tombs where 13 of the 16 Ming Emperors are buried. The tombs themselves are loosely clustered in a rural area round 30 miles North West of Beijing.

To get to the Sacred Way from the car park you first have to run the gauntlet of a row of souvenir stalls staffed by screaming harpies. At the first sight of a coach party they strike up a deafening din as they try to persuade you to buy any amount of tomb related memorabilia.

If you make it past them you come to the ShenGong ShengDe Stele Pavilion, built in 1435.

Chang Ling Tomb Arch

Entering through the arch you find a 50 ton dragon-headed stone tortoise bearing a massive stone tablet. It looks like something out of a Terry Pratchett novel. Impressive but weird and bewildering.

Once past the big tortoise you are on to the Sacred Way itself. In addition to the willow trees there are statues of animals (mythical and otherwise) and, further along, court officials, soldiers, etc. The statues come in pairs of the same animal or creature, one standing guard to protect the Emperor’s tomb while the other is seated, resting. I would be fascinated to watch them swap shifts.

China Sacred Way Camel

Apparently just walking along and looking at the statues is not enough.

China Sacred Way

We had to cherish them. Naomi obliged.

China Sacred Way

China Sacred Way

To say the statues are around 500 years old they are in excellent condition. When 500 years old I reach, look as good I will not.

China Sacred Way

Around half way along the avenue was a gift shop. We took the opportunity to buy Esther a genuine Beijing Olympics T shirt, not having had the chance in Beijing the day before.

Note: The video below is high bitrate. Playing time 0:33.

As we came to the end of the Sacred Way our coach was waiting to take us to visit one of the tombs, but not before we had to endure another chorus of screeching harpies. The sound was so similar to the first auditory attack that it was easy to imagine those screaming women who staff the stalls had hitched a lift on our coach to get a second shot at us.

The Great (and Steep) Wall of China

Posted in China, Far East Cruise 2007, Video by Dennis Wright on May 30, 2007

Next morning we set out from Beijing to visit a restored part of the Great Wall, at Badaling. We had been warned to take jackets as it can be quite cold. It was warm and most of the time we carried our jackets about.

Great Wall of China

The car park is at a dip in the undulating path that the Wall takes as it wends its way up hills and down into valleys. We had a choice: the very steep section up to the next watchtower to our right, or a less challenging climb to the left? The steeper climb promised more spectacular views and most people were going that way. We looked hard at that daunting climb, took a deep breath and followed the other sheep.

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

People were in general very excited about being on the Great Wall of China. There was a small group of American students and one girl just had to leap up and yell “Yay! I’m on the Great Wall of China!”.

Naomi was excited about it too, but didn’t leap up and yell. Better idea, let’s text the kids. But it’s the middle of the night for them, I protested. Ah, but this is their only chance in a long time to receive a text from the Great Wall of China. They’ll think it was worth the brief interruption to their sleep. And the texts were duly sent. Jonathan got his revenge by texting us in the middle of the following night. Our night that is. Late afternoon for him. Serves us right I suppose.

Great Wall of China

We made it to the next watchtower and looked back at where we’d come from.

Great Wall of China

Note: The video below is high bitrate. Playing time 1:33.

We were warned that getting back down was even harder work than climbing up. It’s true. The steps are not all the same height so it is hard to get into a rhythm. It feels very awkward.

Great Wall of China

Tiananmen Square at Dusk

Posted in China, Far East Cruise 2007, Video by Dennis Wright on May 27, 2007

Next up Tiananmen Square. Tiananmen means the “Gate of Heavenly Peace” which is ironic given most Westerners’ immediate reaction to the mention of the name.

Somewhere there is a video of me taking this photo.

And indeed, here it is:

The black lady in red and black, seen at the start of the video, was on our cruise. We don’t know her name but she was only ever seen dressed up to the nines, in heels and hat, even at breakfast. If she were called to a celebrity cocktail party at a moment’s notice, she’d be ready.

The Olympic Countdown Clock in front of the Museum of Chinese History. If you can be bothered you can work out the exact moment this photo was taken.

Monument in front of Mao Tse Tung’s Mausoleum. The Mausoleum was shut so we could not pay our respects to the great man.

But his photo is prominently displayed. He is still a highly revered figure, despite the end of the Cultural Revolution and China’s move away from the fundamentals of Communism.

We stayed overnight at the Grand Hotel Beijing. Room very much in the old colonial style but with incongruous modern touches such as an electronic illuminated bedside control panel for all the lights, air conditioning etc. There was a nice view from the window.

Hotel lounge:

Arch outside the hotel. I think this was inspired by the one in Manchester.

Allowed into the Forbidden City

Posted in China, Far East Cruise 2007, Video by Dennis Wright on May 24, 2007

From the Temple of Heaven our coach took us to the Forbidden City, a large rectangular complex of palaces 1km North of Tiananmen Square.

Compared with Hong Kong and Shanghai, Beijing struck us as very ordinary looking. A fairly dull city with a few extraordinary historical treasures dotted about.

Beijing Street

The journey was painfully slow thanks to the abominable traffic in central Beijing. Heaven knows how they’ll cope with the Olympics.

The Forbidden City was home to the Chinese Emperors until 1911 when Puyi, the last Qing Emperor, abdicated at the age of 6. Big decision for a 6 year old. You’ve probably seen the film about him, The Last Emperor. He lived on in the Forbidden City for a while after losing his Emperorship, was later booted out and ended up working as a gardener, of all things, before dying in his 60s.

The Forbidden City, so called because it used to be off limits to the populace at large, covers a vast area, some 720,000 square metres, and is now open to the public as a museum. Like the Temple of Heaven, a lot of money has been spent on restoring it, and work continues.

Just inside the Meridian Gate there are five bridges crossing the oddly curving Golden Water River. They represent the five virtues preached by Confucius: kindness, integrity, decorum, wisdom and fidelity. He had the right idea. We could do with more of all of those today.

Only the Emperor was permitted to walk on the bas-relief walkway:

Some parts have not been restored and probably won’t be. It would be too big and expensive a job, even with the Olympics coming up.

The Emperor’s Throne.

We collected photos of memorable or amusingly poorly translated signs. This one refers to another kind of throne. The star rating is presumably because you can actually sit on it, in other words it’s not just a hole in the ground. Finding decent loos was not always straightforward in China.

Another photo-worthy sign in the garden area. A funny signs special will follow.

The aforementioned perilous hills:

Tied up in Knots

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, Video by Dennis Wright on May 20, 2007

My senior baby, Jonathan, bought me a real bow tie, the type you actually have to tie, to wear for formal dinners on board ship. To him, having spent 2 years at Oxford where every other night is a posh do of some sort or other, tying a real bow tie is no longer a dark art. For me it was a challenge. He tried to teach me before we set off on our holiday but I really needed a bit more time and practice.

It brought back to mind the time, and it seems so very long ago, that I had to stand behind him to knot his schooltie on his first day at Altrincham Preparatory School. Oh, the irony.

Well on the first formal evening I followed the instructions that came with the tie but could not get it tied properly so resorted to my trusty ready-tied bow tie with a fastener.

For the second formal evening we allowed an extra 30 mins but after many attempts we were getting more and more exasperated and no closer to any kind of attire I would dare be seen wearing in the ship’s restaurant.

[youTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnh2XgDCOVs]

We got there in the end, but only after resorting to the Internet. I found this website which has a video of how to do it. Thank heavens for the Internet and the ship’s wifi which we could access from our stateroom.

Naomi wouldn’t let me take the tie off – I was forced to wear it to bed. My friend in the photo is Dam Dam. Holland America Line provided every stateroom with a complimentary stuffed panda toy for our trip to China. We called ours Dam Dam after the ship, the Statendam. Naomi had previously been on another HAL ship, the Oosterdam. Every HAL ship is a something-dam.

On days we were in port, from the quayside you could look along the portholes and there would be a cuddly panda in nearly every one.

Peter Shilton: O Yangtse. Beautiful river. River full of … boats.

Posted in China, Far East Cruise 2007, Video by Dennis Wright on May 17, 2007

We sailed out of Shanghai at lunchtime on 24 April so we had the opportunity to view a good stretch of the Huangpu through to its confluence with the Yangtse and the East China Sea. It is an extremely busy stretch of waterway.

Yangpu bridge:

There was not a great deal of clearance when the Statendam passed under the bridge.

I first recall hearing of the Yangtse River when I was in my teens, on a Monty Python record, “Monty Python’s Previous Record”. I guess they called it that to generate yet more mirth for fans by confusing record shop staff. “Can I have Monty Python’s Previous Record please?” “Ah, that would be the one they released last year … what was it called …?” “No, it only came out last week”. “Eh???”

Anyway, there was a sketch about English goalkeepers all happening to feel moved to write poetry about the Yangtse, done very much in the style of a BBC football magazine or ITV’s “On the ball” with lots of quotes from football managers. The snippets of poetry are of the standard you might expect from real goalkeepers and would probably not stand comparison with the collected works of Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz.

I tried to find a transcript online. The only one I could locate appears to be the work of a Japanese gentleman so instead of Brian Clough we get “Brian Craft” and other transcription errors.

His (unedited) effort goes like this:

Narrator[Terry Jones]:Yang tse Kiang. The Great Yellow River which from time in memorial has fascinated and tantalized the hearts and minds of men from all corners of the earth. Bob Wilson, Arsenal.
Bob[Graham Chapman]: A Wondrous river. Broad banks are swelling, home to a race of fish.
Narrator: Peter Shilton, Leicester.
Shilton[Eric Idle]:O Yangtse. O Yangtse, Beautiful river. River full of fish.
Narrator: Sprake, Leeds-united.
Sprake[John Cleese]:Yang tse Kiang, river of the eastern dream. Teeming with carp and trout and perch and bream.
Narrator: Why is it that so many of Britain’s top goalies feel moved to by the river yangtse. Brian Craft.
Craft[Eric Idle]: Well, I must remember, David, are the these goalies, especialy Wilson, and on occasion, Gordon West of Everton, are the romantics, the dreamers. The Yangtse is symbol for them, for them it’s a box, David, a temple is far as a spiritual a continuity.
Narrator: Bill Shankly.
Shankly[Michael Palin]: O it’s a river of many moods. To young goaly like a Peter Shilton, Yangtse is a beautiful river. To more seasoned goaly like Phil Parkes of Wolves, Yangtse a river bring me to of dissolution lampishen another it is good.

(sic)

The sketch ends up with a cracking song, sung to the tune of “Blue is the Colour”:

We love the Yangtse, Yangtse Kiang
Flowing from Yushu down to Ching Kiang
Passing through Chung King, Wuhan and Hoo Kow
Three thousand miles, but it gets there somehow

Oh! Szechuan’s the province and Shanghai is the port
And the Yangtse is the river that we all support!

[Clap! Clap! Clap Clap Clap! Clap Clap Clap Clap:] Yangtse!!

Thanks to Python I ended up confused between the Yangtse and the Yellow River. They are entirely separate rivers.

Having said that, the Yangtse is said to be relatively yellowish in colour, the Huangpu grey and the sea blue. We did see the difference in colour at the confluence.

The pictures below are mostly of boats on the Huangpu.

I had hoped to see some junk boats on the rivers of the East, but this was not exactly what I had in mind.

The riverbank is in China, but the houses could be Berkhampstead.

Close to the confluence.

Shanghai Owls Reach for the Sky

Posted in China, Far East Cruise 2007, Video by Dennis Wright on May 11, 2007

After our Maglev round trip we headed for Pudong, Shanghai’s new high rise business area across the Huangpu river from the old colonial Bund waterfront.

We went to the observatory atop China’s tallest building, the Jin Mao Tower. The Jin Mao is the 5th tallest building in the world, narrowly beating 2 International Finance Centre (2ifc) in Hong Kong which we had visited earlier. Both are taller than the Empire State Building in 9th.

The Jin Mao and 2ifc both have 88 floors, a number the Chinese regard as lucky. At 2ifc we could only get to the 55th floor. At Jin Mao the observatory floor is right at the top.

The building under construction alongside the Jin Mao, and which will be taller when complete, is the SWFC building. Now I know that with a population of at least 13m (some claim 18m) Shanghai is bound to have at least some fellow Sheffield Wednesday Football Club fans as residents. But enough to justify the tallest building in Shanghai? Could Owl mania be that strong in the East? My dreams of grandeur were dashed when we found it was the Shanghai World Finance Centre building.

Oh, well.

The Jin Mao has its own post office in the observatory from where you can send your postcards of the Tower.

The Oriental Pearl Radio and TV Tower is a weird pink molecular model shaped thingy.

A blimp on the Shanghai skyline.

Our ship, the Holland America Line ms Statendam, seen from across the Huangpu.

The video below briefly shows the outside of the Jin Mao Tower and then our return from the Pudong side of the river back to the Bund using the interesting but quirky “Tourist Tunnel”. It is a means of transport combined with a rather cheesy tourist attraction. We saw it mentioned in a guide book and decided to give it a go, since we needed to get back to the Bund side of the river, but had no idea what type of “attraction” it was. It was also quite hard to find the entrance on the Pudong side. We spent quite a while exploring the riverfront before we tracked it down. It is quite fun, in a weird way, and parts of it oddly reminiscent of the bit in 2001 A Space Odyssey where Bowman travels through the stargate.

Later that evening, we went on our first organised shore excursion, a visit to a Chinese acrobat showBelow is a short video of our coach journey back to the ship. It really shows off the bright lights of Shanghai. We get views of the Radisson hotel, the Westin hotel (with lotus leaf crown) and behind it, over the river, the Oriental Pearl TV tower, then the Shanghai Museum (lit up in yellow) at Renmin Park, the giant electronic advertising display mounted on a boat on the river.  Strangely, however impressive the modern skyscrapers, the most imposing part of the journey was the view of the old square colonial buildings of the Bund as we descended towards them on the flyover.  We get a close-up of the Bund waterfront buildings and eventually arrive at the ship.


Not captured on video, immediately afterwards a fellow passenger nearly fell in the abovementioned Huangpu.  The woman I had sat next to at the acrobat show lost her footing as she was walking the gangplank to reboard the ship. For one ghastly moment it looked like she would fall in the narrow gap between the quay and the boat, but Naomi’s lightning reactions saved the day. There was some brief but desperate grappling and teetering, then one of the Statendam crew got a hand on the unfortunate elderly lady and ensured her survival. She was a bit shaken but thankfully fine.

23 April 2007: The Millimetre High Club

Posted in China, Far East Cruise 2007, Video by Dennis Wright on May 10, 2007

Maybe most visitors to Shanghai don’t put the Magnetic Levitation train (or Maglev for short) at the top of their must-see list, but we were determined to go on it and decided to head there first.

The shuttle bus from the ship dropped us off at the Silk Exhibition building on Dagu Lu (“Lu” meaning street), close to Renmin Square (“People’s Square”) and Renmin Park (work it out for yourself).

 

 

 

We found the underground and set about making our way to Longyang Lu station from where you can take the Maglev to Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport. My pronunciation of Longyang Lu was just good enough to secure a couple of tickets. We found the right line and platform. Thankfully, the lines are colour coded and Western numerals are also used. Station names are shown in both Chinese characters and roman letters.

The trains are comparable to, say, the London underground but they have internal LCD video screens broadcasting adverts. Announcements of upcoming stations are in Chinese and English.

Once at Longyang Lu you exit the station to access the futuristic Maglev terminal immediately outside it.

Maglev train coming into Longyang Lu terminal.

 

 

The Maglev train takes a little over 7 minutes to cover the 30km to the airport, briefly attaining a top speed of 431kph (269 mph). There is an electronic display in each carriage showing speed and elapsed time. The view out the window leaves you in no doubt about how fast you are going. Cars on the nearby elevated motorway look stopped. It takes about a second to pass the sister Maglev on the parallel track, travelling in the opposite direction.

Technically, to my mind at least, the Maglev is a form of very low flying aircraft. There are no wheels in contact with rails, at least when not in station. The entire train is suspended above the track by a magnetic field, probably by only a few millimetres and moves by linear induction motor. The lack of physical contact between train and track means no friction, hence the amazing speed. I expected the train to glide silently but it does make a noise. A fairly steady one, rather than the ker-chunk ker-chunk of a normal train, and probably caused by the induction motor.

I speculated whether there may be a Millimetre High Club by analogy with the Mile High Club as applicable to conventional air travel. If so, participants would have to be quick given the short journey time. No, we did not attempt to enrol.

Once at Pudong airport we decided to take a look around. We had a “Palin moment” at an airport restaurant where we stopped for a drink. We devised the term in honour of Michael Palin, of Monty Python fame, who has had a successful post-Python career making popular TV travel documentaries such as “Around the World in 80 Days” and “Pole to Pole”. The success of the programmes I think flowed from Michael being game to sample customs or culinary delights peculiar to foreign cultures in a very affable, cheerful, slightly clownish and thoroughly British way. It was in that same spirit that Naomi responded to what actually turned up when she ordered tea with milk. Well it wasn’t PG tips. The waitress brought a teacup and a lidded glass jug containing what turned out to be tea already mixed with milk and flavoured with orange and probably other things. There were some large leafy floaty bits as well. It was odd but nice. Naomi took it in a charmingly Palinesque sort of way.

The airport is modern and has unusual but attractive roof architecture.

Gulag Island

Posted in China, Far East Cruise 2007, Video by Dennis Wright on May 1, 2007

Our first port of call in the PRC proper was Xiamen, within shouting distance of Taiwan. Xiamen is very different from HK. Some impressive new buildings but most are older and the overall look is far shabbier.

As at most ports, we hadn’t booked ourselves on an organised shore excursion, preferring to explore for ourselves, armed with some ideas from the port lecture. The options seemed to be to go xiaoping in the main xiaoping street near where the shuttle bus dropped us off, or to take the ferry over to Gulangyu Island (or Gulag Island, or Goolagong Island or whatever we felt like calling it). We had already done a lot of xiaoping in Hong Kong and Gulag Island seemed the better bet as there seemed a fair bit to do and see there.

We wondered almost at once whether the DIY approach had been such a good idea after all. Port lecturer Abilio had told us there was a free ferry and a tourist ferry. We wanted to avoid anything too touristy so hoped to get on the free one, but instantly hit the language barrier. We’ve never been anywhere where we had not even the basics of a language in common with the locals. We went into a large building near the drop-off point which looked like the ferry terminal but wasn’t. The right place was 200 yards along the quayside. We eventually got onto a ferry but had to pay – we could not find where to get the free one. Not only that but we weren’t even sure if we were headed to the right destination as the boat went off right around the island, not directly across to the island ferry port. Just to add to the confusion, nearly everyone else on the boat was a very excited Chinese person, armed with a camera, rushing from one side of the boat to the other and gabbling with glee, like an army of schoolkids. The ferry supervisor kept shouting at them – heaven knows what he was saying.

We later found out most Chinese are restricted as to when they can take holidays, in particular to national holiday periods and there was one coming up. This particular island is their “pleasure island”, a holiday resort with a sightseeing golf buggy service, marine world, beaches, cable car and theme park honouring the local Chinese hero Koxinga (Zheng Chengdong or something like that) who retook Taiwan from the evil colonial Dutch and fought off the Manchurian invaders in the 1600s.

Our ferry went all the way around the island before coming into port, for the benefit of the happy, snappy sightseers. It was indeed the tourist ferry, the tourists being for the most part the Chinese themselves.

There are some surviving colonial buildings.

Backstreet near the ferry port.

Buggy rides go all around the island.

Once in the theme park you can ascend to Sunlight Rock, the highest point of the island. The 360 degree panoramic view is excellent, but the vantage platform is small and crowded with overexcited jabbering Chinese holidaymakers, as evidenced by the video below which also includes footage of the cable car ride between the two main areas of the park.

At the other end of the cable car ride is an extensive aviary.

 

 

View of Xiamen from Gulangyu Island.

 

 

16 April 2007: An unexpected encounter

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, Hong Kong, Video by Dennis Wright on April 22, 2007

While we were still in the departure lounge in Manchester, Naomi called Ros Farshi and discovered that Igal was in … Hong Kong! The Farshis had just got back from Pesach in Herzlia and Igal had gone straight off to Hong Kong for an electronics trade fair.

 

So, once at HK airport I called him on his mobile. He was caught totally by surprise and a bit bemused, but pleased to hear from us and we arranged to meet up. This was his last night in HK and he had the evening free. By chance he was staying at the Kowloon Hotel which is directly behind the Peninsula Hotel and mere yards from ours.

 

We had time to watch the nightly 8pm laser light show from our hotel window, grab a quick shower and meet Igal in the lobby of our hotel. The laser show is a tourist attraction by arrangement with 13 buildings on either side of the channel between Kowloon and HK island. The various buildings flash lights in different colours and lasers beam out from the building-tops in time to music which you can tune into on FM radio. The show lasts 13 minutes and is very cutely done.

[youTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38iD17PsUDo]

 

Igal was kind enough to buy us some dinner and took us shopping on Hong Kong’s main tourist shopping street, Nathan Road, which runs north from close to our hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui. Igal loves shopping at the best of times and an evening haggling in the handbag shops, buying bags for Rebecca, and he is in heaven.

Photo resolution a bit below the usual standard – taken on Naomi’s phone, no flash.

15 April 2007: Night flight to Hong Kong

Posted in Far East Cruise 2007, Hong Kong, Video by Dennis Wright on April 22, 2007

Our first hop, from Manchester to Paris Charles de Gaulle, was on a little Air France Airbus 318 but we had acres of room. Three seats between two of us and an exit row, so tons of leg room. Naomi joked that she wished we could make the pilot fly straight through to Hong Kong.

 

We knew what was coming. A surprisingly bumpy landing at CDG, at around 10.15pm French time. A real right pain finding your way around the airport – it is shaped like a string of beads and we needed a shuttle bus to get us to the right section for the long haul part of the journey, then through security all over again. I hate CDG. Naomi helped an elderly lady from Hong Kong with her bags up the escalators.

 

The flight to HK itself was a nightmare at eleven hours 40 mins departing around midnight, but not before we had been sat on the tarmac for around half an hour. It was an overnight flight so the lights were kept low and most people tried to sleep. Especially good at that was Miss Ping in the aisle seat. She dropped off immediately. I was in the middle seat and Naomi by the window did not settle at all. We couldn’t sleep, kept wanting to stretch our legs, get a drink from the “bar” at the back of the plane, etc and kept disturbing Miss Ping. In the end we gave her the window seat.

 

At least the food was good. Bon Appetit from the Chief Rabbinate of France. No chance of settling down to watch the film or read a book.

 

There was a Chinese man on board with a ponytail and a sleeveless top showing off his tattoos. In the morning, shortly before we landed, he went through his exercises with such practiced ferocity he could have been a prizefighter. He came across as someone who might frequent shady bars in the old port of Shanghai and get into brawls every other night. I told Naomi he was on his way to Hong Kong to collect the rest of his cash for a hit job in Paris, but he was probably nothing shadier than a rep for a vacuum cleaner company who had been to Europe to visit his ailing aunt.

 

Hong Kong Airport sets the tone for the whole area – hi-tech, spacious, airy, ultra modern, glass, marble and steel. Free wifi and the chance to email our comms agent in Berlin. Bags retrieved, we took the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) to Kowloon station. The train is ultra modern, like a design template for the London Heathrow Express, but with a natty visual display to show you your progress between stops. It is quite a long journey as the airport is out on the west side of Lantau island – you have to cross to the east side then over to Kowloon.

 

Kowloon station is massive, multi-levelled and glass/marble. In the middle of wheeling luggage around I get a call from R Portnoy enquiring about arrangements for our anniversary Kiddush in June. He knew where I was and apologised in case he created roaming charges.

 

All HK taxis are retro style Toyotas in red with silver roofs. Our hotel was the Salisbury, in Tsim Sha Tsui – the southern tip of Kowloon, looking out on Hong Kong island. The hotel is run by the YMCA and is one of three ideally located high rise hotels on the waterfront. We were next door to the prestigious Peninsula Hotel, but paying a fraction of the price for a perfectly clean and comfortable 14th floor room.

[youTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovmbQRr3kuw]

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